For week of Dec. 21-25
Canadians took part in the 1884 British Nile Expedition to provide relief to General C.G. Gordon who had been sent to Khartoum in January to oversee evacuation of Egyptians during the Mahdi Revolt in the Sudan. By March he had been cut off from the outside world and ended up trying to defend the town from massacre.
The British mounted an expedition to relieve Gordon, and Prime Minister John A. Macdonald gave permission to recruit Canadian voyageurs to help guide British soldiers up the Nile River. A total of 392 Canadians, including 56 Mohawks from Quebec and 30 Ojibwa from Manitoba and Northern Ontario, signed six-month contracts. Less than a quarter were there at the end of the mission—the others refused a second contract.
Under Lieutenant-General Sir Garnet Wolseley, who led the 1870 Red River Campaign in Canada, the boatmen took six months to cover the 19,000-kilometre voyage in whaler boats, negotiating 14 challenging cataracts.
Gordon’s last entry in his journal, dated December 14, 1884, noted that if relief did not arrive in 10 days, the town would fall “and I have done my best for the honour of our country. Good bye.” The Expeditionary Force arrived two days after Gordon and his troops were killed on Jan. 26, 1885. The last of the Canadians sailed home in April.
The 16 Canadians who died on the expedition are memorialized in the Peace Tower in Ottawa. A grateful British Commons and House of Lords passed a vote of thanks for the Canadians’ service. All volunteers received a special medal commemorating the expedition, with a Kirbekan bar for those who reached Khartoum. In Canada, many people have never heard of the Nile Expedition and Canada’s role in it. Do you think we as Canadians need to familiarize ourselves more with Canadian military history? We’d love to include your comments on our blog.